Renaissance festivals have always been so intriguing to me. Though I’ve never been, I love the idea of the middle ages and even Medieval Times is a throwback that I can definitely get behind. A Knight’s Tale with Heath Ledger? One of my faves. It’s the corniness and the way people just get so on board with the theme that I love. That’s why The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway by Ashley Schumacher appealed to me. A YA teen love story that takes place AT a Ren faire? I’m SO in.
Since her mother’s death, Madeline “Gwen” Hathaway has been determined that nothing in her life will change ever again. That’s why she keeps extensive lists in journals, has had only one friend since childhood, and looks forward to the monotony of working the ren faire circuit with her father. Until she arrives at her mother’s favourite end-of-tour stop to find the faire is under new management and completely changed.
Meeting Arthur, the son of the new owners and an actual lute-playing bard, messes up Maddie’s plans even more. For some reason, he wants to be her friend – and ropes her into becoming Princess of the Faire. Now Maddie is overseeing a faire dramatically changed from what her mother loved and going on road trips vastly different from the routine she used to rely on. Worst of all, she’s kind of having fun.
TW: Death of a parent
What didn’t work for me
Not enough Faire: I *love* that this book was mainly taking place in the world of the Renaissance faire—something that’s always fascinated me but that I’ve never been to. That said, I didn’t get a good sense of the faire. I understood Maddie’s family’s stall, kind of, but beyond there also being jousting, I couldn’t really picture it in my mind. If I had no frame of reference from the outside, the setting would have completely gotten away from me. I wish we expanded into the world a little bit more.
The Gwen of it all: I understood right away when Arthur started calling her Gwen (I mean, his name is Arthur), but about halfway through the book (or maybe a little further), there was a reveal about why he chose that name for her, and it just seemed so obvious to me. And then she took on this Gwen identity—like it’s even in the name of the book—like it wasn’t weird that he just started calling her that? It really confused me, and I didn’t think it was necessary.
What I liked
Plus-size main character: Considering how many plus-size people there are in the world, you’d think there’d be more representation. That being said, I liked that she was just fat, and that was that. Of course, she was a little insecure about it—she is a teen, after all—but she didn’t try to make herself smaller or do anything about it…it just was.
Grief: I am lucky enough that I have not lost any of my parents or parental figures, but I do know about grief and Maddie’s journey through grieving her mom is very well done. Obviously, it affects her, as it would any teen but especially one who is homeschooled and whose whole life is with her parents, but you can see her progressing through it and being quite mature about it. If it was going to go there with the parental death (why is every book I’m reading about a parent dying these days?), at least it actually went there.
There were parts of this book that I really did enjoy, and I thought it was really well written, but there were a few things that I would have liked to delve deeper into to get a better sense of the world and all the characters. That being said, Arthur and Maddie are super cute, and I liked falling in love right along with them.
“Just as surely as the world keeps turning—which is a great song by Fleetwood Mac, by the way—fate will keep fating.” —Ashley Schumacher, The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway